Monaghan, Stoker, and Wilde. ( A Pagan Place )

“How did he come here?
Who gave him the key?
Slipped it in his hand
So secretly
And who put the colour
Like lines on his face?
Brought him here
To a pagan place”

  • Michael Scott

Driving past Drumaconnor House last week with my friend Glenn I pointed it out to him and said ‘That’s where Oscar Wilde’s sisters died.’

“What ???”

Don’t you know that story ?

“No, and I’d say very few people do.”

There is a fantastic story to be told. This isn’t it. But it’s a start…..

Amiens Street Station was a hive of chaotic activity , as usual, on  this Autumn morning and Abraham hated chaos and avoided it if at all possible, but as the recently appointed Inspector of Petty Sessions he was under pressure to complete his annual inspections and this year , 1877, was proving to be chaotically busy. Poor harvests , evictions and Home Rule agitation were all adding to an already overburdened court system and  each of Abraham’s inspections were each taking longer to conduct than normal simply due to the volume of cases.

By accident rather than design Monaghan had avoided his gaze so far and he’d only recently been made aware that his predecessor hadn’t been there since 1871 so he knew that he’d have to spend the week there wading through old files in order to bring the inspections up to date.

And that was why he found himself queuing at the ticket office window this November Monday morning in order to catch the Great Northern Railway’s 7.15 to Monaghan. He was reading the Times as he queued and was slightly startled to find himself at the front of the queue, being addressed by the Ticket master.

“Yes Sir, how can I help you ?”

“First Class weekly return to Monaghan please.” He handed over the fare absentmindedly and that’s when he caught her reflection in the ticket office window. She was clad completely in black with a large bonnet , a veil covering her face and holding a single red rose. He was mesmerised.

“Sir, sir ! Your ticket ?”

He looked down to see the Ticket Master holding out his ticket.

“Sorry, miles away.” He nodded, tipped the front of his hat and took the ticket. He turned to look at the Lady in Black but she was nowhere to be seen. He called for a porter to place his bags on the train and went to the telegraph office to send a message ahead to Monaghan Courthouse to prepare an office for him, prepare the files from 1871 and 1872 and to have someone collect him and his bags at the Monaghan Train Station at 10.30 and then, satisfied that all was in order ,he boarded the train.

It wasn’t an overly busy service so there was only one First Class carriage and there was only one other occupant when he entered, it was the Lady in Black sitting silently looking out of the window her gloved hands joined on the table, the red rose lying beside them.

“Good Morning Ma’am” he said as he took off his coat and hat, placing them in the rack above the seat, and then sat down opposite her. She silently nodded her greeting in return. He smiled and nodded back and then opened his paper and became engrossed in the theatre reviews, so much so that he barely noticed the train moving off. They continued in silence until the tea service arrived and the caddy laid out cups and saucers for them both.

He was startled when she said “May I ?” as she reached for the sugar and he blurted out , “Of course, of course…”

As she reached for the sugar  her extended gloved hand  caused a gap between the end of her glove and her sleeve revealing a  badly mutilated wrist. It looked to him like a severe burn that had never really healed. He grew red with embarrassment as he realised that he was staring and that she had caught him. She quickly pulled down on her sleeve to cover any bare skin and then stirred her tea. He was now thoroughly embarrassed and looking steadfastly at his feet. He could hear her hat rustling as she was removing the veil in order to take her tea, but he didn’t dare look up for fear that she was scarred there too.

“You’re being silly now” she chastised him.

He looked up and smiled with relief that she had seemingly forgiven him his earlier embarrassment and also that she was radiantly beautiful.

“I do apologise for earlier” he said , holding out his hand in greeting “ Abraham Stoker , at your service.”

She took his hand, smiled and answered “Apology accepted. Emily”.

Ice broken ,they had their tea together as the train rattled along and they talked about the theatre, actors they liked, directors they didn’t , recent productions and then on to art , Abraham favoured Realism , Emily loved the new Impressionists and the journey between Drogheda and Dundalk was occupied with Abraham explaining to her all of the reasons why Impressionism would swiftly fade into memory. She let him talk himself out and then told him all of the reasons why he was wrong.

They got on famously and the train was pulling into Monaghan railway station far too soon for Abraham. He helped her on to the platform from the carriage. He called for a porter and directed him to have his luggage taken to the Westenra Hotel and then he asked Emily if he could have her luggage directed somewhere.

“I have no luggage. I shall be returning on the  evening train.” She once again lowered the veil from her hat as she spoke and he felt that she was no longer Emily, his travelling companion but  was once more the Lady in Black.He couldn’t hide his disappointment. They walked through the station and then outside to the steps where a single coach with an elderly coachman were waiting. Abraham offered her a lift and was surprised when she laughed and walked past him to the coach. The driver hopped down and opened the door for her.

“Nice to see you again Miss Emily.”

“Nice to see you too Arthur.” And then she looked back to Abraham saying “Perhaps I can offer you a lift ?”

He was glowing with embarrassment again but his eagerness  to spend even a few more moments with her quickly overcame it. Before he could say yes a pony and trap clattered to a halt behind the coach and a harried and disgruntled cabbie shouted at him “Are you Stoker ?”.

Abraham was now embarrassed and angry. Arthur cracked the whip and Emily smiled and waved goodbye. Abraham stormed towards the pony and trap.

“You’re late! And it’s Mr.Stoker, if you don’t mind ! “ He was about to climb onto the trap when the cabbie egged the horse on a few steps. Abraham was incandescent. The cabbie laughed.

“Listen here Stoker, the clerk is paying me three whole farthings to collect you. That’s not enough to be taking any guff. Enjoy your walk !” And with that he clicked the reigns and moved off , leaving Abraham behind. He was livid.  

“Bloody Fenian !” Abraham thought this rather than shout it out loud and then started to walk into town along the New Road. He’d calmed down by the time he arrived at the courthouse. The clerk had prepared an office for him upstairs and lit the fire. All of the files from 1871 and 1872 were piled up on the floor beside the desk.

“May I get you some tea Mr.Stoker ?” the clerk asked as Abraham took his seat.

“Yes please, a large pot, it’s going to be a long day.”

“Yes Sir”.

As the clerk made to leave Abraham asked him what time the evening train to Dublin departed. The clerk told him it was due to go at 6.15pm.

“Could you organise a cab to take me to the station for 6 ?”

“I thought you were staying for the week ?” the clerk couldn’t contain his smile, he hated inspections…and inspectors.

“Don’t worry , you will have the joy of my company for the week. I just need to catch a moment with someone at the station. And for goodness sake can you book a proper coach and not some cheeky Fenian with a pony and trap ?”

“That was my brother Sean.”

“Oh. I see , well, maybe I was too hasty.”

“Yes Sir.” The clerk left and closed the door a little harder than it was polite to do.

Abraham put his head in his hands and exhaled, whispering to himself “Oh bugger !”

 He busied himself with the small mountain of files from 1871 and the tedious nature of inspecting junior court clerks’ record keeping  soon took his mind off that morning’s encounters. His function this week was simply to make sure and certify that all of the courts records were maintained properly by the clerks. Mostly he simply scanned the index sheet for each file making sure that all parties and any reports involved were recorded.

Occasionally a particular case would pique his interest and he would delve a little further. Monaghan had had an especially busy year in 1871 due to the death of the sitting member of parliament, Sir Charles Powell Leslie III. Every  election in Ireland was immediately followed by a large bulge in the subsequent months’ court files. Faction fighting, running street battles and general lawlessness were regular companions to any election, and this one did not disappoint.

John Leslie, son of the deceased M.P. , stood as the Conservative candidate and was widely assumed to be a shoe in. He was quickly joined as a candidate by a series of people who adhered to either Gladstone’s Liberal party or the burgeoning Home Rule movement, Lewis, Kenny, Butt, McMahon, and Madden. None of these candidates could secure the key support of the Catholic bishop, Donnelly, and therefore could not secure the Catholic vote. The Bishop thought Lewis had no chance and wouldn’t support him. Kenny was , unusually, a Catholic landlord, but the Bishop had previously had a dispute with his father and wouldn’t back him. Isaac Butt should have been the Bishop’s natural choice. He was the founder of the Irish Home Government Association ,had , as a barrister, defended Fenian prisoners and campaigned tirelessly for those less fortunate than himself. But he was a Protestant  and , well, you know….

John McMahon was a Catholic, a lawyer, a Gladstone supporter, had family connections and advocated Home Rule…..but he also supported mixed religion state schools, so no Donnelly support there. And finally there was John Madden of Hilton House. Despite a terrible reputation as a landlord, and a history of Tory and Orange Order support , he presented himself as a Home Rule supporter. He was widely suspected as simply entering the fray to dilute and divide the Catholic vote. Bishop Donnelly did not endorse him , but after a delightfully extravagant meal in Hilton House, undertook not to openly oppose him either.

A series of legal correspondence padded the file that Abraham was reading as each candidate attempted to sue each other and the Bishop for slander.

The candidates withdrew one by one until only Leslie and Butt were left. Without the Bishops support Butt’s campaign was lacklustre and the final tallies were Leslie 2,521, Butt 1,502. After the result all of the legal actions were withdrawn.

After that he’d scanned another few months and was delving into an interesting one featuring another dispute featuring Bishop Donnelly and Lord Rossmore concerning the new cathedral and a quarry. Lord Rossmore had originally been very supportive of the construction efforts and had donated a free supply of stones from his quarry in Tirkeenan. However Bishop Donnelly’s advocacy of the Home Rule movement  and candidates had soured the relationship.

Lord Rossmore , via his agent , demanded that the quarry be vacated and filled in. The bishop refused and a legal case ensued. It was simply listed for mention in the files.

He’d just noticed that the November files  were missing when there was a knock on the door and the clerk entered, still looking stern, but carrying a tea tray laden with scones and crumpets.

“Would you like this at your desk or by the fire ?” the clerk asked, through gritted teeth.

“The desk , please.” Abraham stood up and when the clerk had placed the tray down, he extended his hand.“Look , I’m sorry about my outburst earlier. I arrived in a bad mood and took it out on your brother and then you. I apologise. Could we start again ? I’m Abraham.”

The clerk looked at Abraham’s extended hand for a moment and then smiled and shook it warmly.

“He’s a bit of a handful to be honest, Sir. No harm done. My name is Francis.”

“Good man, Francis. And we’ll give your brother’s cab another go this evening.”

Francis smiled, bowed his head slightly and then turned for the door.

“Oh Francis ? One more thing, the November files seem to be missing ?”

Francis froze. “I think they are out on request, Sir.”

“All of them ?”

“I…I think so, yes.”

“You think so ? That’s not a good answer for a man in your position, Francis. Look I’m not looking to fall out with you again, but this is a serious breech if an entire month’s court files are missing, wouldn’t you agree ?”

“They are not missing Sir. They are out on request. I… I can recall them and have them here tomorrow morning.”

“Good man, that’s more like it. Where are they by the way ?”

Francis looked at his feet for a moment before answering, he took a deep breath and said “Half are with Sergeant Williamson in Smithborough and the other half are with Dr.Waddell, the coroner.”

Abraham looked up from his desk.

“Indeed ? Go get yourself a cup and join me for some tea and a chat.”

Francis turned and left the office.

Abraham was lost in thoughts of the Lady in Black as he sat beside the fire in his office, sipping his tea . The sound of a cup and saucer rattling as Francis returned brought him back to reality. Francis stood awkwardly, the cup and saucer still rattling, not knowing if he should pull up a seat, pour his own tea or wait to be invited to sit. It was highly unusual for a superior to share tea with a clerk, most of the barristers. Judges and inspectors he dealt with simply barked orders at him.

“Have a seat Francis, and give me that cup before you drop it. Would you like milk in your tea  ?”

“Yes please “ Francis replied as he brought a chair close to the fire “ And four sugars, please.”

Abraham looked up and smiled “Four? “

“Yes , Sir.”

Abraham handed Francis his sugary tea and let him settle into his seat for a moment before he began. “ This is an incredibly odd situation that I have fortunately yet to encounter anywhere else and on the surface it would appear to be a serious breach of regulations. Serious for you, Constable Williamson and Dr.Waddell,”

“Sergeant,” Francis interjected, “he’s a sergeant now.”

“Is he indeed ? Well , one step at a time. The files from November are missing, or at the very least, not where they are supposed to be. You are the clerk responsible for their maintenance and if I have to report that they are missing you will be reprimanded and , as this is a serious transgression, dismissed. There would then be an enquiry where Constable, sorry, Sergeant Williamson would be demoted at the very least and Dr.Waddel would lose his position. But for our purposes here, Francis, let’s see if we can focus on keeping your job, shall we ? “

Abraham was still smiling as he finished but from his tone Francis was under no allusions as to the gravity of his situation. He was holding the saucer with both hands so that it didn’t rattle and spill his tea on his lap.

“May I speak frankly Sir ?”

“You may”

Francis put the cup and saucer back on the tea tray sitting on the small table between them , looked into the fire for a moment and then turned and faced Abraham.

“I’m and honest man, Sir, been here twenty years without a single report or caution against my record. I take pride in my position and follow the rules and regulations, but ultimately I answer to the Constabulary and the coroner.”

Abraham raised his hand “I’ll just pause you there for a moment Francis. In this courthouse, or any other for that matter ,you act as a clerk of the court and therefore you answer to me, no one else.”

“Yes, Sir. I do understand that, but in my day-to-day life I regularly deal with constables and coroners and if they ask to see a file, as part of their official duties, I am in no position to refuse.”

Abraham shifted his position slightly in his chair, leaning forward a little. “Let’s be clear Francis, we’re not having this chat because you allowed someone to view a file, you are here because a month’s worth of files have been taken by persons not authorised to do so. I am giving you the courtesy of explaining yourself before I make an official report. This is your only opportunity. Are we clear ?”

Francis dropped his head a little and staring into the fire ,began.

“Sergeant Williamson, or constable as he was then, approached me sometime in December 1871 requesting to view files relating to the beginning of the previous month. I set out all of the November files in a room downstairs and supervised Williamson as he started to look through them.  I asked if I could help direct him to the one he was looking for but he ignored me. After an hour or so he seemed to settle his attention on one in particular and was studying it intently when Dr.Waddel burst into the room. I do not want to repeat what they said to each other Sir, as I would risk offending you, but the gist of it was that they were each accusing the other of betrayal.

Williamson told Dr.Waddel to ‘Shut up’,nodding towards me. Waddel composed himself and asked me to excuse myself ,that he wanted a private word with the constable. I tried to explain that I was obliged to remain with the files and perhaps they could both excuse themselves instead. They both glared at me in that moment with such a look of malice that I hurriedly left the room. I was waiting in the hallway when I was asked by a magistrate to carry his case upstairs and when I came back down I waited again outside in the hall for a few moments but couldn’t hear any voices so I knocked on the door and , hearing no reply enterd the room. Williamson and Waddel were gone and so were the files.

I was frantic with worry , but felt that these two gentlemen were trustworthy and I knew that I would meet them again soon in the course of my work and could address the matter with them directly. Williamson was in court the following week and at lunchtime I made it my business to get him on his own to find out what was going on. He told me gruffly that he had half the files and Waddel had the other. When I asked why he simply said ‘Insurance’.  I told him that I’d get in trouble and he said that if anyone other than he  himself or Waddel ever came looking for two of the November files that then we’d all know what trouble really looked like. And here you are. And now I know what trouble looks like. Sorry, Sir.”

Francis sat back in his chair and sighed. He looked like a man who had just unburdened himself. Abraham had been listening with increasing alarm and thought carefully before he asked :

“You’ve mentioned two files from November a couple of times. Do you know which files in particular they were after ?”

“Yes Sir. They were after the coroner’s inquiries into the deaths of the poor Wilde girls.”

Abraham waited a moment to compose himself before asking his next question, he’d been a bit thrown by mention of  two deaths but it was something else that worried him. “ You mean, the coroners inquests, inquiries are held into minor matters,  a full inquest would be required for two deaths in one family.”

“No Sir, they were definitely inquests. Nobody wanted too much scrutiny over that particular instance if you know what I mean.”

“No, Francis, I most certainly do not know what you mean. What instance are you talking about ?”

“The deaths of Sir William Wilde’s two daughters, Sir. “

Abraham went white , first in shock and then with rage, “ The Wilde’s are personal friends of mine. I was at Trinity with Sir William’s sons,  Willie and Oscar in 1871. There was no mention of any sisters, let alone a tragedy. You’re on very thin ice here Francis.”

“I’m sorry Sir, but whether you’re friends or not, Emily and Mary Wilde died 13 days apart from each other in November 1871 following an incident in Drumaconor House on HallowE’en night. I read the inquiries and heard all the stories locally, there is no doubt. I’d swear it on the life of my children, Sir. Why even to this day a lady all dressed in black, veiled , bearing a rose visits the girls graves every year.”

Abraham felt dizzy, the room seemed to spin, everything went dark…………….

He was sitting in the Wilde’s front sitting room, 1 , Merrion Square, Dublin, chatting to Oscar and Willie. He’d known them for years, Willie had been his best friend throughout their time in Trinity and when Oscar had joined them it was Abraham who’d nominated him as a member of the Philosophical Society. It was Easter Sunday , 1876, and Abraham had called to see how their father was. He’d been ill for some time and it was rumoured that he wouldn’t last much longer. He was hoping to have a chance to say a final farewell.

As he was chatting to his friends there was a knock at the front door and in the hallway he saw a maid rush to answer it. Normally, and as had only happened a few moments previously when he himself had knocked, the door would be opened and the maid would say ‘Good Afternoon’ enquire as to the nature of the caller’s visit, escort them to this very sitting room and then either announce them to existing occupants of the room, or invite the visitor to be seated and then go and let the relevant Wilde know that they had a visitor. None of that happened in this instance.

Abraham was naturally curious and was staring through the open sitting room door into the hall. The maid opened the front door stood back , bowed her head and stared at the floor while the visitor, a  veiled Lady in Black , passed through the hallway and went straight up the stairs to Sir Williams sick bed. He turned to ask who she was but before he got a chance Oscar spoke.

“Please don’t. I refuse to talk of that..that..witch !”

“Oscar ! That will do.” Willie chided his younger brother.” You know what Bram is like , if you start sounding mysterious he’ll be like a dog with a bone.”

Oscar stormed off theatrically. Willie continued “You don’t have to be embarrassed or coy , Bram, everyone knows that Father had a wandering eye before he got married. We do not know who this Lady in Black is, but whenever she calls she is allowed straight to Father’s bedside and remains there for hours on end, not speaking to anyone. Mother doesn’t object to, or speak of it but it seems to bring great comfort to Father. Oscar has assumed that she is a former mistress and feels that it’s a terrible insult to Mother.”

“Who do you think she is ?” Abraham asked.

“I neither know , nor care. My Father has little time left and he has suffered terribly these past few years. So if this mystery woman is a former mistress or the Queen of Sheba I care not, she makes him happy, and that, at this moment, is all I care for.”

Three days later on April 19th Sir William passed away.

“Pardon ,Sir ?”

Abraham opened his eyes to see Francis looking at him. He blinked and looked around the upstairs office in Monaghan Courthouse. And settled his gaze back on Francis, who looked a little embarrassed and was sipping his tea noisily to cover it up.

“I’m sorry Francis, did I…did I pass out ?”

“No Sir, I had just finished telling you about the Lady in Black and you closed your eyes for a moment and just kept saying ‘Fool’ over and over again.”

“Really ? How odd. It wasn’t directed at you, by the way.”

“Glad to hear it Sir.” Francis smiled with relief. His relief was short lived. Abraham hopped up , clapped his hands together and started pacing back and forth in front of his desk :

“Francis , you are to go at once to the Post Office and send the same telegram to both Sergeant Williamson and Dr.Waddel …”

“Yes Sir ?”

“Don’t you want to write it down ?”

“No Sir, I can remember everything.”


Francis was staring open mouthed at him when he’d finished.

“Yes ?”

“Are you sure ,Sir ?”

“Quite sure Francis.”

“Sir if I may say , somethings may be better let rest, if you know what I mean Sir ?”

“Francis I have no idea what you mean. Now please go immediately to the post office, send the telegrams , exactly as I’ve said, and wait there until they reply, then come and report back.”

“Yes Sir, sorry Sir, I meant no offence, I simply wanted to …Sir, have you not wondered why the last Inspector hadn’t visited in such a long time ? That’s all. “

“Thank you Francis, you have your instructions, off you go.”

He sat back down in his chair as soon as Francis left the office. He couldn’t believe that when he met Emily on the train this very morning that he hadn’t remembered the visitor to the Wilde’s house. But then , they couldn’t be the same person. Emily was in her early twenties and Bram had heard all of the stories about Sir William’s wild ways, but they’d ended with his marriage to Lady Jane in 1851. So a mistress , if the visitor had been such, would have had to be 40, 50, or 60 by now.

He poured himself another cup of tea. It was perfect this time, good and strong, not the way it was consumed in polite society, a guilty pleasure of his.

And then Francis’ last question came back screaming in his ears …

“Sir, have you not wondered why the last Inspector hadn’t visited in such a long time ?”

There was a hurried knock at the door and Francis reappeared. Abraham was a bit taken aback :

“I thought I was quite specific in my instructions Francis. Go to the post office, send the telegrams and WAIT for the replies ! “

“Yes Sir, I know Sir, but I only got to the bottom of the stairs and there they were, Sir” Francis answered excitedly.

“Who was there ?”

“Dr.Waddel and Sergeant Williamson, Sir.”

Abraham stood up from his chair “ My goodness, what a stroke of luck. What were they here for ?”

“They said that they were here to see you ,Sir.”

“But how…never mind, show them in , show them in.”

Francis went out into the hall to invite the two men in. Abraham had just composed himself behind his desk when they entered. Dr.Waddel was an elderly gentleman, who did not appear to be in particularly good health. He was a thin man , slightly stooped and his eyes were bleary and sunken. But he was smiling broadly, if awkwardly, and immediately held out his hand in greeting :

“Mr.Stoker , how very nice to meet you. Dr.Waddel at your service. I met your father many times in Dublin at the Chief Secretary’s luncheons. A wonderful practical man. I was very sad to hear of his recent passing.” He gently emphasised the word ’practical’. His handshake was warm and enthusiastic.

“Yes Doctor, thank you.” Abraham now expected Sergeant Williamson to introduce himself. But he simply stood three or four spaces behind the doctor, head bowed his hands clasped over a large manilla envelope . “And you are ?” Abraham asked.

The Sergeant looked up and Abraham was surprised to see that his eyes were red, as if he’d been crying. “Sergeant Williamson, Sir, Smithborough R.I.C barracks, at your service”. There was a tremble in his voice, very slight, but definitely there.

“Gentlemen, thank you for coming in. Please have a seat. Francis, will you fetch an extra chair for the Sergeant ? I had planned to invite you, but you seem to have pre-empted that. ”

Francis turned to the door to get a chair, but the Sergeant spoke “ I’d prefer to stand ,Sir.”

“Are you sure ?” Abraham asked, “ This may take some time.”

The Sergeant shot him a look of terror, his eyes wide, he was about to say something , but the Doctor spoke first.

“We’re all friends here. All on the same side.” This statement seemed to be addressed to the Sergeant who immediately calmed down. The Doctor seemed to be relieved that he’d stopped the Sergeant speaking, and carried on, this time addressing Stoker. ”We , the Sergeant and I , believe that we have caused a small difficulty for our good friend Francis here, due to our delay in returning some files. This was solely down to our collective forgetfulness. But we are here today to restore order and our good reputations by returning said files.”  He then reached into his black leather bag and retrieved a large manila envelope , almost identical to the one the Sergeant was holding and then looking back to the Sergeant nodded and the Sergeant approached Abraham’s desk and the two visitors both placed their respective envelopes on his desk at the same time. The two visitors then looked at each other and shook hands.

“Is that it, is it over now ?” The Sergeant was agitated and speaking hurriedly.

“Yes, you can go now. It’s over.” The Doctor answered, putting his hand on the Sergeants shoulder affectionately.” You’re a good man Williamson, sorry to have burdened you with this for so long. You’re free of it now.”

The Sergeant smiled broadly, tears flowing down his cheeks, “Oh thank you ,Sir, thank you.” And then he turned and made for the door.

Abraham and Francis had sat open mouthed as this exchange had unfolded before them. Abraham recovered first.

“Hold on just one moment please Sergeant. I have not said you can go anywhere.” Then directing his ire toward the Doctor, his voice getting louder “ Damn it all man, what is going on ? You both have illegally been in possession of court files for six years, you miraculously arrive to return them just as I have discovered they were missing but before you could know that. And now you seem to assume that you can simply return them and carry on about your business ? NO SIR ! Sergeant , you are not going anywhere.”

The Sergeant turned and looked pleadingly at the Doctor, ignoring Abraham completely. “You said it would be over today. You said …”

“It is over. You may go. I will explain everything to Mr.Stoker. Go, Sergeant.”

The Sergeant left the room hurriedly. Abraham was almost levitating with rage and was about to vent his fury but again the Doctor spoke first.

“ I do not wish to appear rude, or disrespectful to you or this office Mr.Stoker, but the Sergeant has no further role here. You deserve an explanation for this episode and I am prepared to offer you one. May I ask that Francis excuse himself ? I do not feel that he should be burdened by what I wish to tell you.”

Abraham simply nodded to Francis who got up , relieved to leave the office. He stopped at the door “Would you like me to bring some tea , Sir ?”

The Doctor spoke “Thank you ,Francis, but we will need stronger medicine.”

As Francis left the doctor again reached down to his black leather bag, this time retrieving a silver flask and two silver cups. He placed the cups on the desk and then opened the bottle pouring a hearty measure of brandy into each.

Abraham could contain himself no longer “Dr.Waddel, does your impropriety know no bounds ? It’s only midday !”

“When you reach my age Mr.Stoker your tolerance for propriety, societal confines, artificial, no , superficial manners and dictums diminishes rapidly. Since that HallowE’en night in Drumaconor all those years ago, every principle, belief, dogma, precept , doctrine and creed I ever believed have been shown for the sham that they are. It is indeed midday as you say and I have a story to tell and brandy to drink.” He lifted his cup and inhaled to brandy fumes, smiled and took a swig.

Abraham had read in reports and heard from some staff directly involved in such things that a condemned man, facing his execution, having railed and railed against the horror of it, then , as the time comes closer, becomes calmer, almost as if they are relaxed and accepting of the end. This was the Doctor’s demeanour. Abraham reached across the desk and took his cup. He too inhaled the fumes, raised his cup to the doctor, took and swig, saying.

“Let’s hear your story.”

The Doctor reached for the brandy flask again and topped up both their cups and asked Abraham :

“I am happy to tell you everything that I know and I will answer all of your questions honestly when I have finished, but before I begin I’d like to ask you a question. In the event of the death , in tragic circumstances, of two young ladies connected to the upper echelons of high society, what records would you expect to find ?”

Abraham thought for a moment and then answered. “ Newspaper reports, local and national. Police reports, post mortem and coroner’s inquest , court report, and a parish record of death and burial.”

The Doctor smiled “Very good Mr.Stoker. You will find none of those things in this case.”

Abraham was about to complain, but the doctor had closed his eyes and was beginning to tell his tale…

“ I received a note from Constable Williamson on the morning of November 9th 1871 informing me that a young lady had passed away the previous evening in Drumaconnor House and asking me to conduct an inquest. He mentioned in the note that the young lady had received terrible burns at a ball on Halloween eight days previously and that a sister of this poor young lady had suffered the same fate and was being attended to in the house.

 I replied at once saying that I would arrange for the inquest to take place the following day in Carrickmacross, as I was already scheduled to be there for the coroner’s court. Almost as soon as I had sent off my reply to the Constable I received an urgent letter from an old college friend , Sir William Wilde. “ The Doctor opened his eyes for a moment and looked at Abraham who was staring at him , wide eyed. The mention of Sir William’s name was a jolt. The Doctor closed his eyes, sighed and continued.

“The letter stated that the young lady in question was in fact his illegitimate daughter , Mary, who had been living with his brother, the Reverend Ralph Wilde. I was not surprised that William had illegitimate children , he was a notorious scoundrel while we were at college. I was shocked mind you with William’s request. He asked me to refrain from conducting a public inquest, which as you know would make the national papers , and to conduct a private inquiry instead. He begged that this was to spare his other illegitimate daughter, Emily, who was very ill and if she was aware of her sister’s death, which he feared was inevitable if there were an inquest, would not survive the bad news. Although the accident was tragic, it did seem routine, so….. “ He took a deep breath. “ So, I acquiesced and cancelled the inquest. I wrote immediately to Constable Williamson informing him and also asking him to convene a meeting of a few local respectable gentlemen in Drumaconnor house on Saturday the 11th of November at midday to have a less formal inquiry.

I set out for Drumaconnor House that Saturday morning and was met about a mile from the house by an agitated Constable Williamson who asked if he could travel with me and talk in confidence. I agreed and he told me that he was uncomfortable with the lack of an inquest and that he felt that this inquiry was very unusual in that all of the gentlemen witnesses were members of the Church of Ireland clergy and friends of Mr.Reid, the owner of Drumaconnor house who was to be the subject of the inquiry.

Again I was shocked and I asked him why he had selected these gentlemen and he told me that he had not and that he had told that I had. I assured him that I had not and that we would get to the bottom of it. Unfortunately we did.

When we arrived at Drumaconnor House the three Reverends and Mr.Reid were standing waiting for us on the steps. I was greeted heartily and immediately invited in. The Constable was asked to wait outside. I began to remonstrate but was gripped at each elbow by two of the Reverends and marched into a small study and shown a seat. The four of them were standing only a few feet away from me in a semi-circle and although they were all smiling I felt intimidated and fearful.  Mr.Reid introduced himself :

‘ Thank you for calling with us today Dr.Waddell. My name is Andrew Reid, owner of this house and banker by trade. These fine gentlemen of the cloth are, Reverend Mr.Bailey of Monaghan, Reverend Mr.Hurst of Ballinode and Reverend Mr.Kennedy of Kilmore. We have prepared the report that we would like you to submit and we wish you to know that we have all signed it as a true statement ,we will brook no changes to it ,and will not sign any other.’

I could not believe my ears. In all of my life and career I had never been faced with such a situation. Mr.Reid handed me the prepared report, it was already signed by the men present, there was a blank space where my signature was expected. There is a copy of the statement of inquest in that November file. It is as they outlined and we all signed it. You can read it in its entirety at your leisure, but the salient points are that the incident as described is accurate. There was a HallowE’en ball in Drumaconnor House in 1871 attended by the great and the good of the locality and also the visiting Wilde’s , Mary and Emily. Towards the end of the evening after almost everyone had left, Mr.Reid took one of the girls for a last dance. The two sisters both wore crinoline dresses. The dancing girl’s dress touched a fallen candle and went up in flames. Her sister ran to her aid and was also consumed with fire. The panic stricken guests rolled the girls in rugs and took them outside where there was a fall of snow . Both were badly burned and were cared for in the house as they were in no condition to be moved. Mary was 22, although neither her first name nor her age appears in the report, and died from her injuries on November 8th.”

The Doctor paused for a moment. He opened his eyes and reached again for his brandy. Abraham took his opportunity to speak “Doctor, if I may interject ?” The Doctor nodded. “The position you found yourself in seems bizarre, but the report as you describe it sounds plausible, does it not ?” Again the Doctor nodded . “So why the need for all of the, literally, strong arm tactics ?Surely , as you were there to simply take the word of Mr.Reid in front of witnesses, this report could have been achieved as a natural course ?”

The Doctor smiled. “Yes, Mr.Stoker, you are absolutely correct, however there were a few anomalies, namely, Mary Wilde was referred to in the report as simply Miss Wylie and Mr.Reid’s name was changed to Mr.Reed  thus making it impossible for anyone ever searching for a record of Mary Wilde’s passing to find it..”

“But, again Doctor, I’m sure, if asked , any one of us, among fellow gentlemen would have agreed to such changes and simply blamed bad note taking, without the necessity for such drama ?”

“ Correct Mr.Stoker ! You and I would both have been of one accord. I said as much to Mr.Reid and the Reverends and asked why they had not simply asked. They could have even allowed the inquest to go ahead as normal and changed the names. This would not have riled the constabulary and achieved the same goal. Mr.Reid did not say a word. He simply presented me with his fountain pen which I took and signed the report. He took it from me for a moment, checked my signature and placed it in his jacket pocket. Then he and the Reverends parted the semi-circle and took a step back to reveal a lady sitting in a seat facing mine. She must have been there the whole time. She was dressed from head to toe in black, wearing gloves and veiled. Mr.Reid announced :

“Dr.Waddell, may I take the pleasure of introducing Miss Mary Wilde ?”

Dr.Waddell went silent. His eyes were closed for a few moments. When he opened them he saw that Stoker was sitting on the edge of his seat, wide eyed.

“And ???” Stoker asked excitedly.

“And there she was, Mary Wilde, the lady I’d been asked to conduct a coroner’s inquiry on because she had died from injuries 8 days previously….smiling at me. I was flabbergasted. I demanded of Mr.Reid what was going on, was it some sort of cruel joke, but he ignored me. He , and all of the Reverends were gazing at Mary Wilde as if they were mesmerised. And then she spoke.”

Dr.Waddell went silent again.

“Good God man ! What did she say ???”

The Doctor continued “She said ‘I am terribly sorry Dr.Waddell, we seem to be putting you to a lot of trouble. Please forgive the unorthodox nature of all of this but we do appreciate your co-operation and I wonder if we could trouble you a little further ?’ Her eyes flashed , even through the veil, they were beautiful and compelling. They shone a bright amber and then faded, and in that moment I would have agreed to anything. And I did. “ Again the Doctor went silent.

“What did you do ?”

“I did nothing, exactly as I was asked to. I’d already completed my role by changing from an inquest to an inquiry and agreeing to sign their version of events, with names changed. All she asked was that I do nothing more. Do not speak of it to anyone. I was not in a hurry to discuss it with anyone anyway and I neither understood what was happening, nor wanted to. I knew however that Constable Williamson was already unhappy with events and mentioned this to her. She said that the Constable would be a Sergeant before he got back to the barracks and he would be told that it was for his services today. I was about to ask why but by this point I really wanted to simply leave and forget about all of this. She seemed to sense this, she smiled and said ‘Clever chap.’ And with that the Reverends joined again in their semi-circle so that she was shielded from me and before I knew where I was Mr.Reid was shaking my hand and saying goodbye on the front steps.

Constable Williamson was standing by my pony and trap but would not look me in the eye when I approached. I expected him to be in a sour mood, I knew he resented being barred from entering the house, and I dreaded having to answer any of his questions. He simply asked :

“So, you’re part of it now ?”

“ I don’t know what you mean Constable. I am not  ‘a part’ of anything.”

He didn’t lift his gaze once towards me as he handed me the reins and said “That is not Mary Wilde. And this does not end here.” He walked off down the tree lined avenue without saying another word.

“What did he mean ?” Stoker was enthralled.

“I followed him down the avenue and pulled up alongside him offering to take him back to the barracks but he refused, shaking his head. He still would not look at me. I was probably still  unsettled and perhaps vented my frustration and confusion on him. I drove the pony on a short distance and blocked the avenue, hopped off and marched back towards him.

‘Look at me, damn you !’

He looked up at me with that same look he had here in this office when you confronted him. He was terrified. My anger left me in an instant. 

‘ I’m not a part of anything, honestly. I really do not know what is going on. I just want to get away and forget all about it.’

He looked at me , a flicker of hope and relief in his eyes. ‘Doctor , we are all in danger. The men in that house are not themselves, and that..that is not Mary Wilde. She is the living death, the blood thirst, Nemain, Macha, Dearg Due, she has many names, Mary Wilde is the latest, it will not be the last…unless we can stop it.’

He made no sense, but seemed so earnest, I thought he was deranged, but nothing else made sense either. I asked what did he want me to do and he said that we would do nothing for now ,that she was not powerful enough to move yet, but that when we heard of another death, then we would have to try and put an end to it. There were old tales of how she could be stopped, he would be ready.

We parted then , and to be quite honest with you, I hoped that I’d never hear anything from him again.”

“But you did ? Didn’t you ?”

“Yes. Yes , I did. On the 22nd November he came to me to say that Emily Wilde had died the previous evening and that we had been asked to conduct another inquiry in Drumaconnor House.”

There was a soft knock on the door and Francis entered the room. The two men, Abraham and Dr.Waddell were sitting in silence , both staring into the fire. “I’m sorry to interrupt Mr.Stoker , but I just wanted to ask if you still required the cab this evening for six o’clock ?”

Abraham looked up confused, “Cab ?”

“Yes, Sir.” Francis continued “You had asked for a cab at six o’clock so that you could say goodbye to someone at the train station.”

“Yes, yes, quite right. What time is it now ?”

“Three, Sir.”

“Is it really ? Yes, I would still like the cab .”

“Very good Sir.” And with that Francis left the two men alone sitting in front of the fire, silent.

After a moment or two Abraham broke the silence.

“You have to continue Doctor. The truth will set you free of this obvious burden.”

Dr.Waddell opened his eyes and looked sadly at Abraham. He picked up the flask and emptied the last of the brandy into his silver cup and then drained it in one gulp.

“Very well, the truth will indeed set you free…but only when it has done with you. On the afternoon of November 22nd 1871 , Sergeant Williamson and I made our way once more to Drumaconnor House to conduct an inquiry into the second death resulting from the fire on HallowE’en , that of Emily Wilde. We travelled together this time from Monaghan and the Sergeant briefed me on his diabolical plan. I could not believe my ears, he looked as if he hadn’t slept since our last meeting and was extremely agitated. If I hadn’t known him previously, I would have declared him a lunatic. He raved about the Blood Thirst, how she must be stopped, that we were the only ones that could stop it. I argued with him that there must be someone else that could help.

“Who would believe a word of it Doctor ??? If you hadn’t seen her yourself would you believe me if I’d come to you with such a tale ? And she is now guarded by Mr.Reid and that coven of mesmerised Reverends. You and I are expected, you will be invited in to perform your duty and that is when I will strike when they are getting to sign their inquiry.”

I asked him what he meant when he said ‘strike’ and he opened his jacket to reveal a dagger shaped object wrapped in water sodden leather strips.

“Pull up at the next water pump.”

The next water trough and pump were only a few hundred years up the road. I duly stopped to allow the pony to have a drink and the Sergeant hopped down and asked me to man the pump and start the water flowing. Once I had got a stream of water going he held the leather bundle under it and after a moment unwrapped it to reveal a dark bronze dagger. It was a  thin blade with a handle of yew wood. He looked up at me triumphantly.

“This is the Areadbhair , the Slaughterer. It’s magic is older than hers. It has a stronger lust for blood then even she has, so strong that it bursts into flames with it’s desire if it is not kept tempered by water. We will need to stop at every water pump between here and Drumaconnor to keep it patient until I strike.”

I shuddered involuntarily. He meant to kill her. I wanted to run away . I wanted to run from it all. But I didn’t . We climbed back into the trap and between the next two water stops , as we travelled in silence I replayed again and again in my mind the events and feelings I’d experienced in Drumaconnor House on our last visit. The strange behaviour of Mr Reid, all of the Reverends behaving like drone bees at her behest. And her very presence at the inquiry into her own death. By the time we reached our fifth and final water pump at the crossroads before we turned left to our destination I was convinced that the Sergeant was right.

“Sergeant , I…I just wanted to say that you are a brave man..braver than I, and that I am here with you and will do what I can to assist.” And then I stood to attention and did my best effort at a salute.

“You are a good man too Doctor. I’m proud to have you at my side.” And then he snapped to attention and saluted me, and as he did so all vestiges of tiredness and fatigue left him and he seemed transformed with a steely resolve.

We travelled the remaining distance in silence and arrived at the steps of the house to be greeted as before Mr.Reid and the three Reverends. They seemed tired and paler than before. There was a simple nod of the head in greeting , no hearty handshake. Sergeant Williamson tended to the pony and trap and I was again escorted into the small study and shown to the same seat. The room was incredibly cold even though there was a fire blazing and stacks of chopped wood and turf lay on either side. There was no effort at any pretence this time. She sat there facing me , smiling through that damn veil. She handed me an already completed inquiry into Emily Wilde’s death.

It was much shorter than the previous one , there’s a copy in your files, simply stating that she had passed away from her injuries , catching fire from the clothes of her sister on the same HallowE’en night of October 31st, that she had been invalided here in Drumaconnor since and everything had been done to preserve her life. The same deliberate errors had been applied, she was called Wylie rather than Wilde, Reid was misspelt as was the name of the house. It had already been signed by Reid and the Reverends , although their signatures seemed less definite, as if they’d all been signed by a drunken man.

I signed my name and handed it back. She looked at it , looked up at me and smiled, her eyes glowed amber.

“No questions today Doctor ?”

“No Miss, I would like to leave please.”

“Wouldn’t you like to stay with us ?” Her eyes flashed as she spoke and I hardly heard the words. I would gladly have stayed in that moment forever, a state of completeness and harmony overcame me…

And then the Sergeant threw the door open and barged into the room the dagger blazing in his hand. Reid lunged towards him, but the Sergeant was too strong and pushed him to the ground. The Reverends shrieked an unearthly sound and tore at the Sergeants arms, Reverend Kennedy tried to impale himself on the flaming dagger and the strength of all three of them seemed to overpower the poor Sergeant. All seemed lost.

She hadn’t even stirred from the chair and was simply smiling at the chaos surrounding her. In that moment I snapped out of my Mesmer and…..”

The Doctor closed his eyes and Abraham saw him clench and unclench his fists three times before he exhaled a deep breath and then continued.

“Remembering it now, it’s as if I’m looking down on someone else doing what I did and not really me at all. I stood up from my chair grabbed a chopped log from the fireplace that I seemed to know had a sharp end even though I didn’t look at it and in a single motion with all my might  plunged it into her chest…”

Dr.Waddell opened his eyes, he seemed to Abraham in that moment to be much younger, relieved, as if a weight had fallen from his shoulders.

“And that was it. It was almost over. I had expected an apocalyptic reaction but as soon as I stood back from her there was no reaction at all, she sat there motionless, eyes closed, lips closed. The Reverends seemed to roll away from the Sergeant, comatose, as was Reid. The Sergeant stood , the dagger still flaming in his hand. He examined Mary, he pulled back her veil revealing her pale angelic face. He gently moved her head to one side and showed me two small puncture wounds on her neck.

“That’s what started it , the mark of Nemain.” And then he looked at me intensely and said “ Doctor, we have stopped the evil that has pervaded this place but we may have a chance to save the soul of one of these Wilde girls. This dagger can kill or cure. If I touch Nemain’s mark on the neck with the flaming dagger it will quench it’s thirst on the poisoned blood and return the life of the victim. I believe it has a better chance of success with Emily upstairs as she is more recently deceased, do you agree ?”

Despite my shock at all that had happened I ventured to ask “Can’t we save both ?”.

“Only if a terrible bargin is made.” And then without another word between us he delicately touched Mary’s neck where the wounds had been with the flaming dagger and I removed the wooden stake at the same moment. He then moved the dagger to her chest and let it rest there for a moment. Mary awoke screaming Emily’s name and then fainted.

“Carry her ! Follow me !” The Sergeant barked at me as he made his way for the stairs. I laboured after him carrying Mary over my shoulder. I made it to the bedroom door in time to see the Sergeant pull back the sheet that covered Emily’s body. I placed Mary in the first chair I came to in the room, hurriedly but as gently as I could and stood at the other side of the bed to the Sergeant. Again he revealed the two marks on her neck, fresher and redder than her sisters. I nodded and he immediately touched the neck with the dagger. As soon as he did so the flame went out and Emily awoke calling for Mary . Mary came to immediately and rushed to her sister’s side. She held her tightly , kissing her forehead and the two girls cried and laughed together.

The Sergeant wrapped the dagger up once more with the leather strips he’d been using as a handle to shield his hands from the now extinguished flame. I went to him and we hugged each other. I stood back and once more stood to attention and snapped a salute. He saluted back, wearily saying,

 “It’s not over.”

He waited for the girls to finish their reunion and then explained the story of the Blood Thirst, The Nemain, and Areadbhair , the Slaughterer. The girls seemed to take it all in. They appeared to have a dim recollection of what had happened and how it happened and accepted the Sergeants story with a certain resigned sadness as if they knew that this was not the end. The Sergeant was blunt.

“Ladies, you have felt and received the restorative powers of Areadbhair and you also feel that something is missing.”

The two girls looked at each other and smiled weakly before turning to the Sergeant and nodding.

“The Areadbhair has only ever been able to save the life and soul of a single victim of an episode of The Nemain’s reappearance. We have saved you both so that you can decide what happens next. You both exist as a half life now, together at the same time. This will never change as long as you both walk the earth at the same time and will only last until the next HallowE’en when the doors between the two worlds open and you will fade to nothing, never appearing again in either.”

The girls held each other’s hands firmly. Mary was holding her other hand to her mouth trying to stifle her sobbing. Emily however fixed the Sergeant with a determined gaze and with a steady voice  said “Or ?”.

“Or, Miss, one of you passes to the Other Place and one remains here enjoying the full restoration of life and soul. On HallowE’en night until the end of All Souls day each year you can meet in Drumsnatt , a thin place between the worlds for a short while and you can determine to swap places or stay in your respective worlds. You can only meet here on All Souls day for this is where and when it all occurred. I’m afraid to say that you have only a few hours to decide and act. As soon as the Areadbhair is ready to flame again the bargain is set.”

“Thank you Sergeant. Could you and the Doctor leave us for a moment ?”

And we duly left them together. We returned downstairs where a confused quartet of Mr.Reid and the three Reverends were puzzling over their presence in the dishevelled study and the burnt state of their clothing. We tried to calm them down and explain as best we could and were making some progress when the door opened and the Wilde sisters entered , holding hands and both clad in black.

They asked us to be seated and they then told us of their decision and how it would affect us. We all agreed to let the world at large believe that the girls had died as the records show and how everyone had heard. A burial took place in St.Molua’s graveyard and a headstone to both girls was erected, it read :

“In Memory of Two loving and beloved sisters, Emily Wilde aged 24 and Mary Wilde aged 22 who lost their lives by accident in this Parish in Novr 1871. They were lovely and pleasant in their lives and in their death they were not divided. ( II Samuel Chap. I, v.23 ).”

The Reverends went back to their respective parishes but each one quickly moved on somewhere else in the country shortly afterwards. Mr Reid sold Drumaconnor House, Reverend Wilde left for England and Sergeant Williamson and I stood by our agreement never to speak of what happened to anyone accept each other. We divided the files for that November, each keeping half , simply as a means of holding our bargain with the Wilde Sisters. Until today that is ,  when we were asked to return them.”

The Doctor slowly stood up and placed his empty flask and silver cups back in his bag, put his coat back on and held his hand out to Abraham.

Abraham was in an awed stupor and it took him a moment to realise that the Doctor was waiting arm  extended to shake hands goodbye. He took the Doctors hand and shook it weakly.

The Doctor turned to leave. A thousand thoughts and questions were whirling around Abraham’s head.

“Wait !  I did want to see the November files and had sent Francis off to send telegrams to you demanding that you return them, but he met you at the bottom of the stairs on the way to the Post Office. I never got to ask you to return them.”

“No Dear boy, you didn’t and I wouldn’t have even if you had asked me. Miss Wilde asked me.”

“Dear God Doctor Waddell, what on earth is going on ? Do you expect me to believe a word of this ??”

“It is not my place to tell you. I wish you well. The burden of this story is yours to do with as you wish now. I would simply say that today is November 1st, All Souls Day and I believe that you have a cab waiting to meet someone at the train station.” The Doctor tipped the brim of his hat in goodbye and left Abraham alone in his office. It took him a few moments to collect himself and then all at once he stood up went to his desk and sat down again opening the first of the November files and flicking through page after page. He was still reading when he heard a knock on the door. It was Francis.

“Your cab is ready Sir. You’ll need to go now if you’re to see anyone before the 6.15 to Dublin departs”.

Abraham grabbed his coat and hat and ran past Francis , down the stairs, jumping the last three of the steps outside and bounding into Sean’s cab. “There’s a guinea in it for you if you get me there as fast as you have ever gone before.”

Sean cracked the whip and shouted “Sir! Yes Sir !”.

Within three minutes Sean’s exhausted and sweating pony practically slid to a halt outside the Monaghan train station. In front of them was Arthur’s carriage, the one that had collected Emily that morning. Arthur was only getting down to open the carriage door and  lower the step for his passenger to alight. Abraham ran over and got there first. He opened the door and smiled widely as the black veiled lady held out her hand for him to help her down.

“Thank you” she said as she stood on the pavement.

“Emily , I am so glad to see you , I’ve had the strangest  of days.”

“ I know Abraham” She lifted her veil as she spoke. “Emily has told me all about it.”

She held out her hand, “Mary Wilde, delighted to meet you.”

Author: paul

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